DADE CITY — Phil Williams lowered his eyes when he recalled the stacks of get well cards next to his hospital bed. The doctors had never seen such a flood of well wishes.
"The outpouring of love and concern was a great boost to me," said Williams, 71.
Earlier this year, a heart attack landed Williams, owner of Williams Lunch on Limoges, in the hospital for five months. The community feared for the man whose restaurant helped spark the transformation of Dade City from a once-booming citrus town into a tourist destination.
"Half of Dade City wanted to be in the hospital with him," said employee Marie Wunderlich.
Williams is better now. Walk into the restaurant any morning and you'll find him laughing with customers or nodding along to the Broadway music piped over the speakers.
His illness earlier this year is not why the Dade City Garden Club selected Williams Lunch on Limoges to honor on their annual historical ornament.
At least, that's what they say at first.
"It could have played a part in it subconsciously," conceded Garden Club member Pat Carver.
Each year, the Garden Club selects a historical Dade City building to showcase. The facades of local churches, an old railroad depot and the historic downtown courthouse have all been replicated on the three-inch, two dimensional brass ornaments.
"All of the ornaments represent a place I've known forever," said Margaret Beaumont, 69, of San Antonio. Her father bought them for her and her eight siblings every year until he passed away six years ago. She's since continued the tradition.
The ornaments have been around 14 years, about as long as waitress Brenda Kilby, 52, has served Lunch On Limoges' homemade crab cakes to Red Hat Society ladies, and a fraction of the time the store has served Dade City.
Williams's grandfather opened the shop in 1908. His uncle and father took over 16 years later, trading an Oldsmobile convertible for the present site on Seventh Street. In 1981, Williams sold his Mercedes to help fund the transformation from department store to restaurant and gift shop.
The reopening doubled as a local reception for Princess Diana's wedding to Prince Charles.
"I wanted to do something different," Williams said.
In June, when he was wheeled through his creation in a wheelchair, he realized how special it was.
"I had fresh eyes," Williams said. "I realized there is really not another store like this. It made me feel wonderful."
He runs the dining room while Skip Mize oversees the kitchen. They've been together for 34 years, and when Williams was in the hospital, Mize realized he didn't want to run the business without him.
Sunday, the store is hosting a sold-out fashion show and fundraiser for the Garden Club, a long time tradition. This year's theme is joie de vivre, French for joy of living.
"The theme has to do with not only my situation," Williams said. "But a general theme of encouraging people to enjoy the day."
Earlier this week, Mize held the hands of a grey haired woman as she chatted his ear off. In the back of the shop, Williams admired the new wing tip shoes of a customer.
The staff was busy preparing the dining room. It was almost lunch time, and already the Red Hats were piling in.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 435-7312.